"We are thrilled to open the doors of this beautiful new facility and are excited that students now have the opportunity to experience JA BizTown and JA Finance Park at the JA Kohl's Education Center," said Tim Greinert, president of Junior Achievement of Wisconsin.
The facility is located at 11111 W. Liberty Drive on the far northwest side of Milwaukee.
Kohl's Department Stores made the largest donation of $3 million over three years for the facility that will serve approximately 10,000 students in fourth through tenth grades this school year.
Workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy through experiential, hands-on programming are the priorities of Junior Achievement.
"Junior Achievement is founded on the belief that practical experiences can help students prepare for the world of work," Greinert said. "Our primary goal is to provide students with life-like lessons and experiences that can help prepare them to be good consumers ready for the world of work and entrepreneurship."
The JA Kohl's Education Center houses JA of Wisconsin administrative offices, meeting rooms and two hands-on laboratories for JA BizTown and JA Finance Park.
"The world of education is changing, and the number of elective courses available beyond the core curriculum is becoming even more and more limited," said Greinert. "Programs like JA BizTown and JA Finance Park allow educators to integrate even more real world lessons into their own classrooms."
JA BizTown, housed at the JA Kohl's Education Center, is designed for students in fourth, fifth and sixth grades. Students from all over the state connect education to workforce by running a real city.
"Students actually become the city economy as workers, consumers and government officials," Greinert said.
Students start with 20 or more hours of classroom work that culminates with a full day at JA BizTown, where students implement a fully-interactive simulated town.
"The excitement of the students stands out," Grienert said. "The life-like facility and nature of the curriculum teaches the kids in a way they haven't been able to learn before."
Students at JA BizTown go through real world situations such as applying for jobs, running for a government office, working the day-to-day jobs and dealing with budgets, finances and operations. Students have the opportunity to work in manufacturing, television, radio, banking, insurance and even become mayor of the city, Greinert said.
JA Finance Park, sponsored by Northwestern Mutual and also housed within the JA Kohl's Education Center, is a similar simulation but is geared toward seventh through tenth grade students. JA Finance Park is designed as a rigorous financial literacy program.
Students in JA Finance Park are given a random life scenario and must complete personal finance transactions and create long-term financial plans based on their occupation, income and designated family situation.
"Once they leave the JA Kohl's Education Center, I think they are just as excited but they leave with a new found confidence. It's as if they just captured some secret information that every adult should know," Greinert said. "It's very rewarding."
Rewarding and successful, scientific research has confirmed that students taking part in JA programs gain practical knowledge related to personal finance, employability skills and entrepreneurship.
Similar JA programs are in more than 30 cities across the United States.
"Anecdotally, we've always suspected that having the JA experience would mean kids were more likely to graduate high school," said Jack Kosakowski, president and chief executive officer of Junior Achievement USA.
According to Kosakowski, a recent study described the impact that programs like JA BizTown and JA Finance Park among others can have on students when making the transition from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school.
"Those are precisely the transitions that JA programs target which really brings home the relevancy to these kids," Kosakowski said. "They start getting into these real life situations and managing budgets and personal and business finance and it hits home, they realize that this is why they need to stay in school."
In addition to utilizing sponsorships of JA BizTown and JA Finance Park storefronts for marketing and branding purposes, local businesses can benefit from the increased level of confidence and employability skills of students who participate in the program, Greinert said.
"We hear every day how local employers can't find the people with the right types of skill sets despite historically high unemployment rates," Greinert said. "The JA Kohl's Education Center is working with those employers to fulfill a future employment base."
"The cost of financial illiteracy is high," Kosakowski said. "Through some of the activities in JA BizTown and JA Finance Park, students can learn matter-of-factly that they can't spend more than they earn and that they need science, math and technology skills to run a storefront or a utility company or a manufacturing business. It is workforce readiness, financial literacy and the skills they realize they will need in order to be successful working for an employer."
Greinert hopes to get the JA Kohl's Education Center to capacity by serving 20,000 students annually. He also hopes to expand on the involvement of the local business community which already has storefront sponsorships from companies such as Harley-Davidson Inc., Pieper Power, U.S. Bank and Quad/Graphics Inc., among others.
"The long-term goals of the organization are focused on improving graduation rates and some of the other challenges relative to getting kids on track for their future," Greinert said. "We think with more opportunities like these students are more likely to make positive choices that will lead them to a more promising future as well as create a more promising future workforce of our state."